The Villa Planchart (1954-1957) was not a typical Venezuelan home, and its patrons Anala and Armando Planchart were not a conventional couple. Armando Planchart had a thriving business as a General Motors car dealer in Caracas during a time when the city was experiencing a boom of prosperity due to the oil industry. The Planchart couple desired a unique home to be constructed on their newly bought plot of land that was nestled between the city of Caracas and the Avila Mountains. In 1953, Armando and Anala travelled to Milan in order to interview the famous Italian architect Gio Ponti. The story goes that Ponti brought out a roll of tracing paper and began sketching a hacienda-like house to which Anala immediately rejected declaring “I want a modern house.” From that moment on, the Plancharts found a kindred spirit in Gio Ponti whose ideal vision of a modern home that was filled with light and a sense of joy. Since the design process of the Villa Planchart was a form of architectural poetry, the interplay of spaces must be discussed in a series of metaphors including a butterfly, a diamond, a world within a world, and a gallery/greenhouse. By using these metaphors to describe how the Villa Planchart functioned as an unorthodox house, Gio Ponti’s vision of the home as a “poetry of precisions” can be better understood.
As founder and editor of the architectural magazines Domus and Stile, Gio Ponti had often delved into the concept of the home or domus. For Ponti, domus was essentially a world of its own where nature, people, and artifice were in harmony. Ponti once stated, “The home is the source, the image, of a happiness…the home lies at the origin of life which, within its human limits, is wonderfully unlimited.” Since Ponti realized that the architect could never realistically obtain a perfect balance of these elements, he believed that the idea of domus would be fulfilled if an inhabitant were to discover enchantment within his architecture. In the Villa Planchart, enchantment of the ten thousand square foot space was achieved through creating multiple lines of vision and a blurring between structure and furnishings. The surviving drawings of the house by Ponti demonstrate this focus on the inhabitant’s experience of visual delight in which his plans are populated with either figures or eyes; these eyes are especially evident on the second floor indicating the private nature of the upper level. The argument that Ponti’s thought process was as more like a poet than that of an architect is especially exemplified in the Villa Planchart project since he only visited the construction site four times and chiefly communicated his vision through numerous letters and drawings. In fact, the Villa Planchart can be viewed as a reinvention of the Italian poesia for the twentieth century. Instead of using a literary language, Ponti employed an architectural language in order to poetically evoke a domus filled with rhythm and vibrancy.
When considering the construction of the Villa Planchart, Ponti often envisioned the building as a butterfly in terms of form, metamorphosis, and lightness. In one letter to the Plancharts, Gio Ponti wrote that the “villa must have the grace and lightness of a resting butterfly. The roof must be like a wing.” Indeed the exterior of the villa resembles a fluttering butterfly with its seemingly foldable white walls making the building seem to move forwards and upwards as if about to attempt flight. The most obvious allusion to insect wings can be seen in the V-shaped canopy at the entrance of the house. As the day transitions into night the sense of dynamism which Ponti desired for the villa is apparent with the edges of the house illuminated by hidden light fixtures causing the structure to glow above and below. Ponti’s butterfly metamorphosises from a butterfly into a nocturnal moth or perhaps into a light-filled work of origami.
Interestingly, in writing about the Villa Planchart for a Domus article, Ponti commented that the best way to understand this tropical Italian villa was not to study its exterior but rather by examining the interplay of the interior spaces; Ponti wrote, “…it is an abstract sculpture on an enormous scale, not to be looked at from [the] outside, but from the inside by penetrating it and walking around it - made to be observed by constantly moving one’s eyes around it." While there is a clear demarcation between the house, land, and sky, the boundaries between the interior and exterior of the villa are more blurred. This fluid relationship between inside and outside is evident in the Living Room in which glass windows fill the double height of the space providing a sense of openness as well as taking advantage of the exterior views. There are also internal windows between the Living Room and the Dining Room in which the revolving wainscots are decorated in a polychromatic design of yellow, cream, gray - the main color palette for the villa; in fact, similar to the way the color pattern of a butterfly is pleasing, Ponti employed hues to bring sense of lively unity to the house. Decoration can also be found on the ceiling decoration of the stenciled sun and the moon which were the emblem for the Plancharts (sun/Armando and moon/Anala). This sun and moon motif are found throughout the house and even on some of the dinnerware which Ponti designed. Within the Living Room, the couple’s emblem reappears with the sun and moon balcony providing an abstracted fairytale setting. Ponti’s belief that rooms should function as microcosms is demonstrated by this metaphoric sky as Ponti once commented, “A colored floor…is a meadow; it needs a light ceiling, a morning sky.”
During his career, Ponti often declared, “Architecture is a crystal.” For Ponti, crystals were the ideal structure of nature. It is to easy to see why the architect admired the paradoxical qualities of a crystal which is simultaneously rigid and airy, hard and transparent - qualities which can be found in Ponti’s own work. The use of the crystal as a form of inspiration is clearly expressed in the Villa Planchart through the repeated use of the diamond shapes for surface decoration. In fact, the diamond is echoed throughout the home from its roof structure to its marble floor pattern. Sometimes described as a harlequin pattern, the custom-made Italian marble floors throughout the ground level of the villa add a sense of playfulness to house’s joyful atmosphere yet were also used by Ponti for functional reasons. By employing the repeating shape of the diamond, Ponti successfully provided rhythm to the space and a sense of uninterrupted flow between rooms. In particular, the Tropical Dining Room is a fascinating space where Ponti achieves aspects of his ideal domus . The Tropical Dining Room blurs the distinction between indoors and outdoors since the “room” is partly covered, but there are no walls or weather barriers to divide it from the garden. In order for the interior and exterior to converge seamlessly, Ponti extended the diamond floor pattern from the Living Room into the Tropical Dining Room. This blurring of boundaries (between architecture and decoration as well as indoors and outdoors) can also be viewed in terms of camouflage, like that of a butterfly. In other words, Ponti conceals the physical demarcations of different functioning spaces (i.e. the Living Room and the Tropical Dining Room) so that they are able to visually blend without disruption. Even the dining table plays a role in the blending of spaces. Rather than using a traditional dining table shape such as a circle or a square, Ponti commissioned a polygonal table with eight sides, which echoes the surface treatment of both the floor and walls.
Ponti’s desire for a poetic harmony between nature and artifice within the home is also evident in the Tropical Dining Room when considering the artwork by Fausto Melotti and Romano Rui. Although the Plancharts were already collectors of mainly Venzuelan modern art, Ponti encouraged his clients to acquire numerous Italian artworks and furnishings for their new home. In some instances, like that of the Tropical Dining Room, Italian artists were commissioned to create site-specific pieces. While Romano Rui constructed the fireplace and chimneystack, Fuasto Melotti created a ceramic mosaic sculpture for the patio’s southern wall, which was originally intended to have a waterfall flowing over the artwork. Melotti also created a similar mosaic sculpture displayed on the wall of the staircase. For both sculptures, Melotti received harsh reviews by Italian critics who considered this collaboration with artist and architect to be demeaning. The press even condescendingly called him an “interior decorator” who had compromised “his artistic integrity.” Such comments reveal the period sentiment towards interior designers, which may partly explain why Ponti considered himself solely as an architect despite his crucial involvement with planning the interiors of the building.
Ponti also incorporated his patrons’ passion for art collecting and growing orchids into the house. For the Plancharts’ love of tropical botany, the landscape of the garden is brought into the house through an outdoor dining area, but also through the inclusion of flower containers throughout the house. For example one of the stair rails had sprouting orchids. Also, in the living room were metal trays known as “portable gardens” in which the units could be fitted together and set into floor design making the flowers part of the construction of the home, another way in which Ponti made sure that the Villa Planchart was a total work of art. While functioning has a mini greenhouse, the villa simultaneously functioned as a display for modern art. One example is the Calder mobile found in the Entrance Hall. Although Ponti declared the Plancharts as the “ideal client” since he was given almost full creative license in designing the Villa Planchart, there was naturally some conflict. For instance, the Calder mobile Anala wished to have it in the living room while Ponti desired it in the entrance hall since he planned to redesign the upper portion of the wall to frame the view of the Calder. Although Ponti was willing to integrate the Plancharts’ personality into the villa, there was one collection that the architect had difficulty with- gaming trophies. Armando insisted on having his trophies of animal heads displayed in the Studio-Library to which Ponti found such a display incongruous with the beautiful home he had created. However, Ponti once again was able to use invention as a form of compromise by creating one his signature “organized walls” with a mechanical twist. At the push of a button, six of the cabinetry niches rotated to reveals the heads of gazelles and water buffalo.
Gio Ponti's unique designs for the Villa Planchart made it an early example of humanistic modernism at work in a domestic setting. Ponti created not only a home, but a building that also functioned as a greenhouse, an art gallery, and a mediator between nature and civilization. Both a sense of lightness and an organic flow are achieved by blurring the boundaries between architecture and interior design. In addition, the repeating motifs of diamonds and butterflies provide rhythm to the villa that reflected the couple's passions for art and nature. Still to this day, the architectural poem crafted by Ponti and the Plancharts, survives as an ode to precision - a truly modern house.
© Courtney Ahlstrom 2014
Ahlstrom Appraisals LLC - Personal Property Appraiser evaluating Fine Art, Antiques, Vintage Items, & Residential Content
 Massimiliano Di Bartolomeo. “A villa in the tropics,” Domus 925 (Jun. 2009). http://www.domusweb.it/books/book.cfm?id=190410&lingua=_english&inizio, accessed 19 Nov. 2009, 2.
 Phrase used by Gio Ponti to describe his design process. See Roberto Schezen. Text by Susan Doubilet. Private Architecture: Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century. (New York: The Monticelli Press, 1998), 260.
 Lisa Ponti. Gio Ponti: the complete work 1923-1978. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1990), 269.
 Keith Evan Green. Gio Ponti and Carlo Mollino: Postwar Italian Architects and the Relevance of Their Work Today. (Lewiston: The Edwin Meller Press, 2006), 19.
 Monica Ponce de Leon. “Villa Planchart: Gio Ponti Snapshots from Caracas,” Harvard Design Magazine (Summer 1998), 34.
 Anneke Bokern. “Complete artwork including big game,” Stylepark (Feb. 2009) http://www.stylepark.com/en/news/complete-artwork-including-big-game/289417, accessed 19 Nov. 2009, 1.
 Keith Evan Green. Gio Ponti and Carlo Mollino: Postwar Italian Architects and the Relevance of Their Work Today. (Lewiston: The Edwin Meller Press, 2006), 161.
 Marco Romanelli, ed. Gio Ponti: A World. (Milan: Abitare Segesta, 2002), 133.
 Gio Ponti. “A Florentine Villa,” Domus 303 (1955) in La Pietra, Ugo ed. Gio Ponti. (New York: Rizzoli, 1996), 276.
 Ugo La Pietra ed. Gio Ponti. (New York: Rizzoli, 1996), 242.
 Gio Ponti, “The Floor Is a Theorem,” Love Architecture (Genoa: Vitali and Ghianda, 1957) from Ugo La Pietra ed. Gio Ponti. (New York: Rizzoli, 1996), 242.
 Gio Ponti. In Praise of Architecture. (F.W. Dodge Corporation, 1960), http://ia331315.us.archive.org/1/items/inpraiseofarchit010163mbp/inpraiseofarchit010163mbp.pdf, accessed 27 Nov. 2009, 92.
 Monica Ponce de Leon. “Villa Planchart: Gio Ponti Snapshots from Caracas,” Harvard Design Magazine (Summer 1998), 34.
 Keith Evan Green. Gio Ponti and Carlo Mollino: Postwar Italian Architects and the Relevance of Their Work Today. (Lewiston: The Edwin Meller Press, 2006), 1.
 Monica Ponce de Leon. “Villa Planchart: Gio Ponti Snapshots from Caracas,” Harvard Design Magazine (Summer 1998), 33.
 Anneke Bokern. “Complete artwork including big game,” Stylepark (Feb. 2009) http://www.stylepark.com/en/news/complete-artwork-including-big-game/289417, accessed 19 Nov. 2009, 2.
 Massimiliano Di Bartolomeo. “A villa in the tropics,” Domus 925 (Jun. 2009). http://www.domusweb.it/books/book.cfm?id=190410&lingua=_english&inizio, accessed 19 Nov. 2009, 3.
 Ponce de Leon, Monica. “Villa Planchart: Gio Ponti Snapshots from Caracas,” p. 33.
 Ibid., 35.